Taming Bruce

As many of you probably already know, I bought a cockatiel a couple of months ago. Here is the story from then till now:

Hey, good-looking!

I was perusing the local pet shop for the first time. First, I spied the guinea pigs. I love guinea pigs! I looked longingly, and wished my dogs weren’t as enthusiastic about piggies as I am… that never tended to end well :/

Next I looked at the puppies and kittens. Such beautiful little animals! Burmese cats, fluffy white puppies… and then the mice, romping and playing in their little cages. I was just peering at their tiny, furry bodies crawling in and around and over log houses when I heard someone wolf whistling from further down the room. Curious, I moved on to… the cockatiels!

Bruce was the only grey tiel amongst the white and speckled birds. He was the only one paying me any mind – the others were more interested in their food or each other. He was staring me straight in the eyes, all cute-looking. I knew in that moment, I must have that bird! A couple of days later I had convinced Sean to let me have him. A couple of weeks later he was in my possession.


There had been some question initially as to whether he was for sale. Apparently he had been “re-homed.” Such being the case, he was also older than the other birds. Well, he was able to be bought, and so I picked him up one fine Monday. I caught mumbled sentences about him being feisty, reckoned on him being a bit of a handful, rose to accept the challenge. I had been told that he was the most difficult of the bunch, that the others were most docile. But he was the reason I was even thinking about cockatiels! His wings were re-taped, his beak trimmed, and he was placed in a box and handed to me with some seed and a cage.

What I didn’t know until this week was that Bruce already had a name when I bought him: Trouble. The store workers all seem to be familiar with him. I don’t know exactly what they mean by that, but I can guess at least some of it. For those unfamiliar with cockatiel behaviour, they can be brilliant pets, easy enough to train, and quite intelligent. But if you don’t show them who’s boss from the get-go, they will try to pull rank.

Initially we were perplexed by his biting us whenever we tried to handle him. That was because he wasn’t used to us. Some family members showed us how to overcome this issue, and we found we were able to pet him and handle him. That’s when we began attempting to teach him the “step up” command – that is, to get him to step up onto our hands when we gave that command. And that’s where we started to notice the difficulty.

Bruce has learned the step-up command now, after some persistence on our part, but one area remains a challenge: if he is on his cage, or up high – somewhere he feels superior or in-charge – he refuses to step up, and instead will flap away to as far as his taped-up wings will carry him. The pest! Hopefully that will change soon, as we have got his wings taped up a little better, with some extra feathers that had grown out trimmed or removed.

How do you like your seed?

The next challenge was food. That’s one we’re still struggling with. Cockatiels are scared of trying new foods, holding to the suspicion that any new food substance may be deadly. So he has been on a strict seed diet since we got him; not healthy for a bird that should have a diet comprising approximately 20% fresh stuff! We’re going to try taking away his food for 24 hours and only offering veggies (which I have been continually eating in front of him, in the hopes of conveying their suitability as food to him).

Play time

One thing I seem to have stumbled onto the answer for is the issue of play and stimulating activities. Bruce seemed to be spending far too much time sitting around and squawking in an irritating fashion than doing anything birdy. I gave him toys, and he just sat on them. I gave him a seed stick, and he only ate it if he didn’t have his seed bowl. I put little leafy branches in there and he ignored them. Finally, I googled it and got some ideas! Here’s what I did:

  • I made up some sticky seed mix, to make my own seed treats. (1/4 cup flour, 1 tbsp corn glucose syrup, 2 tbsp water, 1 cup seed mix – combine, make into whatever shape you need, let set in the fridge for up to 12 hours). Then I took a big bamboo branch and coated some of the leaves in the seed mix, to make a foraging scene for him. I also took some plain paper and scrunched some up with seed mix in the middle, and made a fan out of paper with seed mix in between the wedges.
  • Taking out his food bowl, I put in the foraging tools I had made, as well as weaving some leafy bamboo shoots through the bars of his cage. I also got a sprig of callistemon that has yet to flower.

Breakthrough! He has started tearing the leaves off the bamboo, removing the knobs from the callistemon, and foraging through his cage for bits of seed to eat. He finally has something to occupy himself with – and I can change it up from day to day, with different branches and different plants. The seed mixture is easy to make, and can be enhanced with bits of other foods like fruit and veg.

That’s basically where things are at for the moment, and I’ll check in later with updates on how things are going!


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